Election 2020 Weekly Roundup
September 14, 2020
Our ‘Election 2020 Weekly Roundup’ takes a look at the latest developments in the presidential race between President Trump and former Vice President Biden, in addition to some key Senate contests from across the country. This week, we examine the competitive Senate races in Colorado, North Carolina, Michigan, Georgia, Iowa, and Montana.
In some of the recent developments surrounding the presidential race, certain swing states have begun to waver on their support for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden. According to new data from a conglomeration of polls, support for Biden in Florida and Nevada has slipped. Florida, which was previously rated as “lean Democratic” by the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, has earned a new rating of “toss-up,” indicating a slight shift in favor of President Trump. The president carried Florida in 2016, and both sides count it among the most important states in determining who will win the White House in November. Additionally, Nevada has also moved slightly rightward, with the Cook Political Report moving its rating recently from “likely Democratic” to “lean Democratic.” In 2016, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton narrowly won Nevada, and the Trump campaign is strategizing how best to flip states that Clinton had a slight advantage in. Among other swing states, Biden continues to hold an advantage in Minnesota and Wisconsin, both of which are considered vital by both campaigns. The winner in states such as Florida, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Minnesota will be in a strong position to go on and win the election, and as such, both presidential campaigns deem the states to be critical.
In the latest national polling, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden continues to hold an advantage over President Trump. In polls from USC Dornsife and others, Biden holds a lead of nearly ten points nationally. Additionally, several polling outlets gathered data on presidential approval over the last week, with President Trump’s numbers continuing to slip. According to YouGov, the president’s disapproval rating stands at 53%, with 42% approving of his job performance. Overall, a rolling average of presidential approval shows President Trump struggling, with the data largely aligning with the YouGov numbers. Furthermore, according to FiveThirtyEight, Trump’s job approval rating has slightly decreased since last week, with revelations from a new book released by investigative journalist Bob Woodward playing a significant role in affecting the numbers.
Colorado, Cory Gardner (R) vs. John Hickenlooper (D)
One of the most intriguing Senate races this election cycle is taking place out west in the state of Colorado. The matchup features two high-profile names in state politics, as incumbent U.S. Senator Cory Gardner seeks re-election against Democratic challenger and former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. Gardner was elected to his current role back in 2014, after previously serving in both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Colorado House of Representatives. Hickenlooper is also a familiar figure to state and national audiences alike, having served as a two-term governor in Colorado before then campaigning for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. After dropping out of the presidential race, Hickenlooper ran for and won the Democratic party’s primary in the Colorado U.S. Senate race, and is now set to face Gardner in the upcoming November general election.
Of the 23 Republican-held Senate seats up for grabs in 2020, the Cook Political Report rates the Gardner-Hickenlooper race as one of its 6 “toss-up” elections. Additionally, in one of the most recent developments last week, Politico moved the Colorado U.S. Senate race from a “toss-up” to “lean Democratic” in an indication of a slight shift in favor of Hickenlooper. Other election forecasters like Inside Elections and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball had already moved the contest in that direction earlier this year. In regards to the latest polling figures, data aggregator RealClearPolitics classifies the race as “lean Democratic” while FiveThirtyEight’s numbers show Hickenlooper with a lead of between 5% and 9% based on surveys conducted within the last month. Some of the newest polling however does show Hickenlooper’s lead on the lower end of that 5%-9% spectrum. A survey conducted by Fabrizio Ward and Hart Research has Hickenlooper ahead by a five-point margin of 51%-46%. Ultimately, Gardner is considered to be one of the Republican Party’s most vulnerable incumbents this year, and the outcome of this race may go a long way in determining whether or not Democrats are able to flip the Senate in November.
North Carolina, Thom Tillis (R) vs. Cal Cunningham (D)
The 2020 Senate race in North Carolina sees incumbent Republican Thom Tillis seek re-election against Democratic challenger and former State Senator Cal Cunningham. Before being elected to the U.S. Senate, Tillis served as a member of the North Carolina House of Representatives, and was Speaker of the legislative body during his final term there. Cunningham also has a background in state-level politics, having served as a North Carolina State Senator in addition to being a lieutenant colonel in the United States Army Reserve. North Carolina is viewed as one of the nation’s most competitive swing states in presidential elections, and so unsurprisingly, the race between Tillis and Cunningham is also expected to be extremely close. Voter turnout in November should also be high considering that North Carolina is one of only five states to be holding presidential, senatorial, and gubernatorial elections this year.
Polling for this Senate race has been remarkably tight, and the shared consensus among election forecasters is that neither candidate has a discernable edge. The Cook Political Report, Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and Inside Elections all rate the race as a “toss-up.” Data aggregator RealClearPolitics also ranks it as a “toss-up” and the polling averages show Cunningham with a slim 3.3% lead over the incumbent Tillis. However, this does fall within the margin of error for many surveys, which is normally somewhere in the 3%-4% range, showing how incredibly close the race truly is. This gap of around 3 points between the two candidates seems to also be verified by the most recent polling conducted in early September which found Cunningham ahead of Tillis, 47%-44%. One major factor that appears to be hurting Tillis in his re-election bid is that his polling numbers in the state are lagging behind those of President Trump, indicating that some Republicans in North Carolina may be mulling split tickets in November where they support Trump but not Tillis. Regardless, the Senate race in North Carolina is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in the country, and as a result, both Republicans and Democrats have focused a lot of attention on the Tar Heel State.
Michigan, Gary Peters (D) vs. John James (R)
In Michigan, incumbent Democratic Senator Gary Peters is seeking re-election against Republican challenger John James. Peters has served Michigan in various government roles during his career, including as a state senator and U.S. House member, and is running for a second term in the U.S. Senate. James previously ran for the U.S. Senate back in 2018 as the Republican Party’s nominee, but lost in the general election to the state’s other U.S. Senator, Debbie Stabenow. Both Peters and James have military backgrounds as well, with Peters having served in the United States Navy and James having done so in the United States Army. This 2020 Senate race in Michigan is one of two nationwide to feature an incumbent Democrat running for re-election in a state that President Trump won in 2016, the other being U.S. Senator Doug Jones in Alabama. Of the 12 Democratic U.S. Senators vying to hold on to their seats in November, Jones and Peters are considered to be the most vulnerable.
Across the board, most reputable election forecasters have given the slight edge in the Michigan U.S. Senate race to Peters over James. The Cook Political Report, Inside Elections, and Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball all rate the race as “lean Democratic,” however, data aggregator RealClearPolitics ranks it as a “toss-up.” The polling averages also indicate a very tight race, as Peters leads by only 3.5%. Furthermore, surveys conducted over the past month consistently show a narrow gap between the two candidates. A new Detroit News/WDIV-TV poll released last week had Peters ahead of James by 3 percentage points, 44%-41%, which is within the 4% margin of error. With respect to fundraising, James has raised more than incumbent Peters for several consecutive quarters. Most recently in July, James’ campaign announced that it had raised $6.4 million during the second quarter of 2020 compared to $5.2 million for the Peters’ campaign. While Peters still leads in overall fundraising figures, the influx of financial support for James demonstrates that Republicans believe the seat is very much up for grabs in November.
Georgia, David Perdue (R) vs. Jon Ossoff (D) and Kelly Loeffler (R) vs. Doug Collins (R) vs. Matt Lieberman (D) vs. Raphael Warnock (D)
In Georgia, the Senate election will be unique because both of Georgia’s Senate seats are on the ballot. Georgia’s regularly scheduled election features incumbent Republican David Perdue facing Democrat challenger Jon Ossoff. Perdue was first elected in 2014, defeating Democrat Michelle Nunn and ensuring Republicans kept control of the seat after Saxby Chambliss became the first Republican to win the seat since the Civil War during the 2002 elections. Georgia’s other Senate election is to decide who completes the remainder of Johnny Isakson’s term after he resigned from the Senate in 2019 due to health concerns. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp initially appointed Kelly Loeffler to serve in Isakson’s spot temporarily, and she is running in the special election to become a permanent senator until 2022, when Isakson’s term would have expired. Loeffler’s strongest challenge is from a member of her own party, current U.S. House member Doug Collins. Collins sits on the House Judiciary Committee and is a staunch supporter of President Trump. Also running for Isakson’s old seat are Democrats Raphael Warnock and Matt Lieberman. With the absence of primaries in the special election, a candidate would need to win 50% of the vote in order to win the seat. Should nobody secure that percentage, a run-off election with the top two vote getters would occur in early January 2021.
In the race between Perdue and Ossoff, the latest polls indicate Perdue holding a slight advantage. According to data from nonpartisan outlet RealClearPolitics, Perdue currently holds an advantage of roughly four points, at 46.8% to 42.5%. The Cook Political Report currently has the race rated as a “toss-up,” with a slight advantage for Perdue based on his incumbency. Other outlets, however, show Ossoff with a slight advantage. Data from Hart Research indicates Ossoff is holding a one-point lead of 48%-47%. Polling from Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group is similarly bullish on Ossoff, with data showing a two-point lead of 48%-46% over Perdue. The contrasting data from polls indicates that at this point in the campaign, neither candidate has separated themselves into a favorite.
In the special election, the latest polls indicate a tight race between Loeffler and Collins, with the Democratic candidates lagging behind. Collins decided to run for the seat despite opposition from state officials in Georgia, who preferred Loeffler to run as the lone Republican to show a united party. Loeffler remains ahead according to pollsters such as FiveThirtyEight, but without the requisite 50% needed to avoid a run-off. According to RealClearPolitics, the polling averages show Loeffler with 25% support, and Collins with 21%, well ahead of Warnock at 14.7%, and Lieberman at 12.7%. However, should a run-off be necessary, which looks increasingly likely, party affiliation plays no determining factor. Therefore, Collins and Loeffler will likely face each other in the run-off in January 2021, with the winner seeing out the remainder of Johnny Isakson’s term until 2022.
Iowa, Joni Ernst (R) vs. Theresa Greenfield (D)
Incumbent Republican Senator Joni Ernst is facing a difficult re-election challenge from Democratic opponent Theresa Greenfield in Iowa. Ernst, who is serving her first term in the Senate after winning her seat in 2014, has been targeted by Democrats who view her seat as a great opportunity to bolster their caucus and secure a majority in the Senate. When she won in 2014, Ernst flipped the seat to Republican control for the first time since 1984. Democrats are highly motivated to wrestle the seat back in 2020, and have been buoyed by recent electoral trends in Iowa. In 2018, Democrats won back two U.S. House seats from the Republicans, which gave them a majority in Iowa of three to one. The Senate race is currently rated as a toss-up, but Democrats are encouraged by the 2018 House election results that they view as a potential indicator of Iowa’s movement to the political left.
The most recent polls are divided on who is leading the race at the moment. Senator Ernst has a slim lead in polls conducted by reputable organizations such as Hart Research and Monmouth College, while Theresa Greenfield is ahead according to other legitimate pollsters such as RealClearPolitics. According to the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, the race is judged as a “toss-up” with neither candidate creating substantial separation. Recently however, polls have started to become less favorable for Senator Ernst, with several local outlets in Iowa conducting polling that shows Greenfield in the lead. These polls, conducted by the Des Moines Register, among other outlets, are the first internal Iowa polls that show Ernst trailing her challenger since she won the seat in 2014. Additionally, Ernst’s job approval ratings have slipped in recent months, despite allying herself closely with President Trump, who remains highly popular among Iowa Republicans. Lastly, millions of dollars in outside contributions have flowed into both the Ernst and Greenfield campaigns as the election garners national attention, indicating the importance of the race.
Montana, Steve Daines (R) vs. Steve Bullock (D)
Of the 35 Senate races being held across the country, the race in Montana is shaping up to be one of the most competitive. First term incumbent Republican Senator Steve Daines was projected to easily win re-election, but the late entrance of Montana’s popular governor, Democrat Steve Bullock, has shaken up the race. In 2014, Daines won his seat by a margin of almost 18% over his Democratic challenger. This year however, experts are predicting a much closer race. Despite Montana being a Republican stronghold when it comes to presidential elections, Montanans have elected Democrats in each of the last four gubernatorial campaigns, and five of the past six Senate races. Daines is a strong supporter and ally of President Trump, and has used the president’s popularity in the state to boost his campaign. Conversely, Bullock supported the president’s impeachment as governor, but has a proven track record of delivering results for Montanans.
In the latest polls, accredited nonpartisan outlets show Daines and Bullock neck and neck, with Daines holding a slight advantage but well within the margin of error. In a poll taken by Emerson College, Daines holds a six-point lead at 50%-44%. RealClearPolitics indicates a slightly tighter race, with Daines still leading but with a two-point margin of 47%-45%. Bullock has seen his numbers slip recently, as he held an advantage in multiple polls in late July and early August. Bullock will also be further concerned by Daines’ approval ratings. The most recent data collected indicates Daines’ approval rating anywhere from +10 to +13, showing his popularity among Montanans. As election day closes to within two months away, Bullock will need to make ground in order to defeat Daines. However, he will be buoyed by how close the race is, and have confidence in his ability to overturn the current deficit as a popular figure in state politics.